Alan stormed down the hall towards the reception desk, his ears nearly emitting steam.
This had better be good, he told himself. This had better be damned good.
He stepped into the reception area and stopped dead in his tracks. The place was like a morgue. Susan sat at her post, elbows on the desk, chin in her hands. Judith was standing to one side of the desk, her face pale, her lips drawn into a tight line. Jake stood off to one side, his hands shoved deeply into his pockets, his brow creased and furrowed.
In front of the reception desk stood Jeeves, looking unflappable, immovable, imperturbable, as he always did.
Alan looked at him with a slight snarl. "You still here?"
Jeeves drew himself to his full, considerable, height, and faced Alan full on. "Indeed, sir. It would appear that, despite all evidence to the contrary, I persist. I had begun to doubt my own solidity, as it has been several chapters since my last appearance here."
"Yes. That part I was enjoying. Everything else, not so much."
"I can only imagine, sir."
Alan snorted. "Imagine all you want."
"Oh, indeed I shall, sir. And derive tremendous pleasure from so doing."
"I hate to interrupt," Susan said, not moving a muscle other than her lips. "But we have a problem, here."
"My apologies, Miss Susan. It was not my intent to dominate the room." Jeeves bowed slightly and took a step back.
Alan turned to her. "What is so all-fired important that you couldn't tell me over the phone?"
Susan sighed. "It's Rebecca."
Alan squinted at her. "Rebecca?"
Alan's shoulders dropped a notch. "What about her? She's on vacation, for God's sake."
Jeeves stepped forward again. "It would appear, Mister Smithee, that our illustrious Ms. Hargreaves has returned to us."
Alan looked sidelong at him. "Do you have to talk that way?"
"I am well trained, sir."
Alan grunted and turned back to Susan. "Is he serious? Is she back?"
Susan nodded again. "She's in her office now."
"When did she get back?"
"About five hours ago."
"Five hours? Why the hell didn't someone tell me?"
Susan finally extricated her chin from her hands and sat back in her chair. "I wanted to give her some time."
Alan gaped at her. "Give her some time?"
Susan nodded. "She was in a bit of a state."
"A state. She was in a state. You mean like New Mexico? That kind of state? She was on vacation, so that's really the only kind of state I want to imagine her in. If you're talking about some other kind of state, then I don't want to hear about it. Because we need her back, and we need her working at full capacity. So you'd better damn well be talking about New Mexico."
Alan's fists were tight balls, he suddenly realized, and his respiration was shallow and rapid. His heart rate was up, and a thin line of sweat was forming at his hairline.
He was a mess.
Jake had stepped closer to the desk, and Judith was now pacing back and forth behind Susan.
Alan scowled at them. "What are you two, the Greek chorus?"
Judith stopped and looked at him. Jake's frown deepened.
"We're just concerned," Judith said.
"Yeah," Jake said. "Concerned."
"Well, go be concerned in your own offices. Preferably while doing actual work." He looked at Susan, then at Jeeves. "Doesn't anybody do any work around here?"
"Oh, indubitably, sir," Jeeves said. "But when you are in the vicinty, it is incumbent upon us to hang upon your every word."
Alan jabbed his index finger in Jeeves' direction. "You. I don't want you here. I want you somewhere else."
"If you don't mind my saying, sir, you appear to be rather tightly wound at this juncture. Might I fetch you a cup of tea?"
"I don't want a cup of tea."
"Oh, I would highly recommend it, sir. Tea has a wonderful way of calming the nerves."
"I—don't—want—a cup of tea."
Jeeves bowed his head slightly. "As you wish, sir."
Alan glanced at Jake and Judith. "You're still here." He made a shooing gesture with his hand. They, along with Jeeves, slowly retreated.
Alan straightened his shoulders and turned to Susan. "Now. Five hours, you say?"
"Yes. She's been in there for five hours, and I haven't heard a sound."
"Anything else you can tell me?"
"Well… She was wearing an old-fashioned dress, she was crying, and she yelled at me when I went in there."
"She yelled at you?"
"Yes. She told me to get out and not to let anyone in."
"And that was five hour ago."
"Yes. Five hours."
"Well, I think I'll give it a try. She must be calmer by now."
"I don't think she wants anyone in there, Alan."
"Anyone except me, you mean."
"She didn't say anyone except you."
"Well, I'm sure that's what she meant."
"I don't think she meant anyone but you. I think she meant anyone anyone."
"Well, I'll take that chance."
"It's your funeral."
Alan gave her a quizzical look as he stepped towards Rebecca's office. He paused and listened at the door but heard nothing. He knocked, but there came no reply.
Quietly, gingerly, he opened the door a crack. Again, no response. He opened the door a bit further and poked his head into the room. Rebecca was not at her desk.
He stepped inside and looked around. Rebecca was lying on the couch by the window, her arm draped across her eyes.
"Close the door," she said quietly.
He took in the sight of her. She was, indeed, wearing an old-fashioned dress. It looked positively Victorian.
"That's a new look for you, Bec," Alan said.
"I said close the door."
Alan took a step back and shut the door.
"What's up, Bec?"
Rebecca took her arm from her face and glared at him. "What's up? You want to know what's up?" She swung her legs over the edge of the couch and sat up. "I'll tell you what's up. I just had the most harrowing experience of my life. That's what's up."
Alan closed his eyes. He could see all his problems dancing before him. And they were dancing in pairs. And they were marrying each other. And they were having children.
"I think I'd better sit down," Alan said.
"I think you'd better."